NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Missing starting quarterback Marcus Mariota Sunday, the Tennessee Titans traveled to Miami hopeful that the task of beating the Dolphins with their backup signal caller would not prove insurmountable.
With No. 8 sidelined with a nagging hamstring injury, it did.
With veteran Matt Cassel coming in for his 81st career start, the Titans offense managed only 188 yards of total offense, converted a mere 15% of their third-down attempts (2-of-13), lost two fumbles that turned into 10 points for Miami and allowed six total sacks. Cassel completed 21-of-32 passes for 141 yards, a touchdown pass and a lost fumble.
“We all have to rally around Matt and do a better job for Matt,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said post-game. “You can give them credit for their third down defense against us, but I know I can go down each play on third down and look at something we did that didn’t help matters.”
On the ground, Tennessee rushed for only 69 yards between running backs DeMarco Murray (14 attempts for 58 yards) and Derrick Henry (four attempts for nine yards). Murray’s lost fumble in the first quarter broke a streak of 325 rushing attempts without a losing a fumble dating back to the 2016 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings Minnesota on September 11th of 2016.
The Dolphins began the scoring with a 41-yard field goal from kicker Cody Parkey in the first quarter. Miami would score a touchdown later in the first but it would come after an odd series of events.
First, Cassel found tight end Delanie Walker for a 59-yard touchdown pass that was negated by rookie tight end Jonnu Smith, who was flagged for offensive pass interference.
“Where that came from, I don’t know,” Mularkey said of the OPI. “Poor call, really poor call.”
Two plays later, Cassel was decked while throwing by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso. What was thought to be an incomplete pass was determined by the officials to be a fumble that Dolphins safety Reshad Jones had the presence of mind to scoop up and run back into the end zone for a touchdown while the rest of the players stood around under the assumption that the play was dead. The defensive score made it a 10-0 Miami lead.
The Titans defense did its part after giving up 50 points to the Houston Texans (Houston scored 57 points but the final six came on Cassel interception that was returned for a score) and five total touchdowns to rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. Against the Dolphins and former Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s unit snagged an interception and allowed only 12 first downs and 178 total yards.
Cutler threw for only 92 yards through the air but still managed to win.
An Adoree’ Jackson forced fumble recovered by safety Kevin Byard put the Titans in position to score. Tennessee capitalized on the turnover with a made 45-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop to make it 10-3.
Succop’s made field goal was his 46th in a row from inside 50 yards, which tied an NFL record.
Cassel and the offense moved the ball 69 yards down the field and scored a touchdown on an 11-yard pass to tight end Philip Supernaw (the first of his career) and tied the game at 10-10 before the half. But Cutler’s six-yard toss to receiver Jarvis Landry late in the fourth quarter made it 16-10 after a Parkey missed extra point.
“We all have to rally around Matt and do a better job for Matt,” Mularkey said. “You can give them credit for their third down defense against us, but I know I can go down each play on third down and look at something we did that didn’t help matters.”
Up Next: The Titans host the Indianapolis Colst, an AFC South divisional rival, at Nissan Stadium on Monday Night Football.
Information from The Tennessean and TitansOnline.Com contributed to this report.